5 November 2011

How to be Happy at the Orange Tree

The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond has its ups and downs but there are far more ups than downs, and the few downs are not that severe anyway, so I continue to go to every play that they put on. This remains a good plan.

The latest show, How to be Happy, was a real gem and a great advertisement for what the Orange Tree can do.

Encouragingly this seemed to be recognised by the punters at large as the night that I went was very busy and there was a good mix of people in. It does worry me when I go to the theatre and I'm about the youngest person there, which can happen at the Orange Tree.

How to be Happy is about Paul who wrote the successful book of the same name but who has left fame, fortune and happiness behind him.

He is split from his former wife and both have remarried, her to a successful marketing executive and him to a (unusually sexy) nursery teacher. His first wife has a new baby which we do not see but we do hear quite a lot of via the baby alarm.

They have a teenage daughter who lives with Mum but visits Dad frequent, often playing one off against the other as teenagers are meant to do.

He has also been diagnosed with lung cancer which is one reason why he watches late-night TV while drinking neat whiskey.

The first wife's second husband's latest idea is to use brain imaging to discover what is really going on when people, say, eat chocolate or have sex. The later example is one that his wife refuses to participate in.

We follow the two linked families from the vantage point of their front rooms which, conveniently, have the same suite of furniture.

To keep the pace of the play going we sometimes see both rooms at the same time and have to follow two parallel but related conversations.

It's a fairly simple trick, and one used at the Orange Tree before, but it works very well.

Once the domestic scene is set (to the confusion of the people behind me) the action unfolds in a myriad of directions none of which Paul is able to actively engage in, to his growing frustration. He is not happy, does not know how to become happy but can see that everybody else is (more or less, there is some teenage angst and matrimonial wobbling but no real unhappiness).

While Paul is the centre of the story all that goes on around him is important and these are five strong roles all played very well and very differently. Paul bumbles along lost, his daughter struts and storms, his first wife plays the good wife and mother, his second wife oozes sex appeal, and his first wife's new husband is like a child with a new toy.

The five characters fizz and sparkle off each other through perky dialogue and deft plotting. The end result is swell and I'd recommend it to anybody.

And to make the evening even better, Paul Kemp (who confusingly plays Paul) is married to Natalie Casey, who was Donna Henshaw in the much watched Two Pints ..., and she was there to see him. I managed to grab a few words with her during the break and then she came across to say goodbye at the end. I was very chuffed.

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